How to shop for clothes in eating disorder recovery

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It’s natural to gain or lose some weight during eating disorder treatment as you work to build a positive relationship with your body, food, and movement. But after you’ve completed an eating disorder treatment program and return home, you may be overwhelmed with the prospect of buying a new wardrobe. You may also feel stressed about old clothes that no longer fit. Shopping for new clothes can be anxiety-inducing, but there are ways to manage your stress, cope with triggers like mirrors, and change your relationship to clothing fit and sizes.

Last updated on 
April 25, 2022
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Tips for shopping for new clothes after eating disorder treatment

Returning home post-treatment for an eating disorder is a big adjustment, especially when it comes to facing your closet. Here are some tips for shopping for new clothes during eating disorder recovery, so you can get the most out of your trip and begin to move forward on your journey.

Get rid of old clothes

Old clothes that no longer fit can trigger a relapse to disordered eating and body surveillance and can prevent us from fully moving forward in our recovery process. Getting rid of old clothes will help you to resist trying them on during times of stress or anxiety. 

Write a list of what you need

After you’ve cleaned out your closet and drawers, make a list of the various clothing items you need. Having a plan in place will help decrease anxiety while shopping.

Choose stores and companies with inclusive sizing

Many clothing companies and brands offer a very limited range of clothing sizes, which can be extremely triggering for anyone whose body shape or size is excluded. Research inclusive clothing brands and focus on them when you go shopping.

Opt for online shopping if in-person is too stressful

Although it may be difficult to know exactly what sizes you need when shopping online, it can be far less stressful than going in-person, which may involve crowded malls and stores, countless mirrors, and sales associates who may unknowingly say something insensitive or triggering. The majority of online stores offer free returns, so, at worst, you can return the clothes if they don’t fit comfortably.

Bring a supportive loved one

We aren’t meant to endure tough situations alone. Bringing a supportive family member or friend can help improve your experience, from listening to your feelings to offering helpful feedback about the clothes you try on (so you don’t have to look in the mirror).

Do frequent check-ins with yourself

Because shopping for new clothes may bring up some troubling emotions, make sure to check in with yourself and your feelings throughout the day. Schedule breaks in which you can gather yourself, channel your emotions, and process with your support person.

Choose clothes that feel comfortable

In a perfect world, no clothing would have sizes on it, but, since that isn’t the reality we live in, we can choose to view our clothing through a different lens. Above all else, make sure you pick clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. Buying clothes based on the size can trigger disordered eating behaviors, especially if they are too tight or don’t fit appropriately. Your support person can help empower you to make these choices by asking you questions like, “How do you feel?” and “Do you feel comfortable?” 

Assess your clothing for functionality and fit

Aside from comfort, you may want to assess how functional your clothing is, especially for various activities you may engage in throughout the day. When you try on new clothes, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I able to cross my legs in these pants?
  • Can I easily sit down and stand up?
  • Am I comfortable walking in them?
  • Are the sleeves and legs the right length?
  • Am I able to bend over and pick something up off the ground?

You can, of course, customize this list based on what you do throughout the day. For example, if you spend a lot of time gardening, you may want pants that are easy to squat and bend over in. 

Use your coping skills you learned in treatment

No matter how well-prepared you are, shopping for clothes is likely going to cause some sort of stress or anxiety. This is a great time to utilize the coping skills you learned in eating disorder treatment. This may include strategies learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), such as cognitive restructuring, in which you identify and challenge your thoughts about your body image. Or you may use dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, like mindfulness and radical acceptance, to keep you present and avoid judging your thoughts and feelings.

Remind yourself how inaccurate and harmful clothing sizes are

At the end of the day, it’s important to remind yourself about the flawed sizing system of clothing. Clothing sizes are rarely consistent from brand to brand. And brands have reduced their sizing considerably over the past few decades. This is known as “vanity sizing,” which means clothing manufacturers are trying to send the message that thinness is ideal. 

It can be extremely harmful to base your self-worth on your measurements or the size of your clothes. It may be easier said than done, considering the messaging we’ve internalized from our society, but in knowing these facts about manufacturers and brands, you can actively challenge your distorted thoughts and beliefs about your body image–and feel good about yourself and your exciting new wardrobe.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

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